A few thoughts now, after a few (very few) hours of sleep, on Indiana 72, Michigan State 68 -- some wandering farther afield than others ...
* Look, I get that college basketball is too often about the coaches and not enough about the players. But does it have to be so much about the coaches?
Tom Izzo (and to a lesser extent, Tom Crean) came close to making a mockery of the final minutes of a great basketball game last night by continually inserting themselves into the storyline with one timeout after another. It got to the point where Izzo (or Crean) was calling a T.O. after virtually every possession, a circumstance that made me wonder if either actually did any coaching in practice.
I understand, of course, that coaches sometimes need to call timeouts to set up specific plays. But last night, Izzo in particular -- who had five timeouts to burn in the final 90 seconds or so -- was simply egregious about it. Let the kids decide the game, Coach. If you've done your job right, they don't need you to hand-hold them through every single possession.
You can solve this problem, I'm thinking, by simply cutting the number of timeouts coaches are allotted. At Izzo's/Crean's level, there's absolutely no reason a team needs more than three (I would say even two) timeouts per game. TV affords more than enough otherwise.
And you know what? The kids will survive.
I'm thinking now of the last sequence in Indiana's last national championship, when Bob Knight -- ironically, one of the greatest control freaks in college hoops history -- did not call a timeout to set up Keith Smart's last shot, but simply let his players do what they'd been coached to do. Miraculously, the Hoosiers did so, without needing Coach to help them.
* If Victor Oladipo didn't become the clear and absolute frontrunner for college Player of the Year last night, someone's not paying attention. Playing on a still-gimpy ankle, he was once again the X-factor in a huge game, scoring 19 points, taking nine rebounds, making five steals and authoring the signature moment of the game when he launched himself at a ball going out of bounds, batted it to a teammate, and then blew downcourt for a critical dunk off the return pass.
Oh, and then there were those last 90 seconds or so, when he tipped in a miss, got a dunk on an inbounds run-out, and killed Michigan State's last faint hope by grabbing the rebound of Gary Harris' intentional free throw miss, then sinking the dagger freebies at the other end.
"Victor was Victor," Jordan Hulls said when it was done.
Like he needed to be anyone else.
* Want to know why college buckets has it all over the NBA?
It does February way, way better.
You just don't see atmospheres like the Breslin Center -- Is there anything like the Izzone in pro hoops? Um, no -- in the NBA, at least until we're deep into May and most of America has moved on to more summery pursuits.
Fact is, when the biological clock says it's basketball season, the college game delivers. No, the players aren't as skilled. No, the level of execution often isn't as high. But the games are played with a passion and intensity and sense of importance the NBA simply can't match in its endless, numbing 82-game slog.
No single game matters in the NBA, simply because the season, for economic reasons that will never be resolved, is 25-30 games too long. By contrast, there's a game that matters in college buckets every week. Who cares if the Knicks beat Brooklyn, or vice versa, in December? Thery're gonna play eight or nine more times before the games really start to matter -- four months down the road.
And so you turn on an NBA game these days, and it's the same-old, same-old: Walk it up, work a little two-man or iso, let LeBron or Kobe create the offense. And, compared to what we saw last night, it's so damn quiet. There's absolutely no sense of occasion or urgency to any of it.
Give me a cold February night in Breslin any day.